Read, Write, Run, Roam


Finding a reservation for the Mayan Apocalypse: Armageddon Tourism

We’ve neglected to believe other Mayan tenets, like rain dances or believing that the first men were made of maize dough, but somehow we’re all supposed to desperately believe that their calendar accurately predicts the end of the world will happen next Friday, December 21, 2012.


Apparently, this is enough of a concern that NASA has issued a statement saying that it’s not the end of the world. But that’s not enough to stop thousands of media outlets from reporting on it, or from enterprising tourism agencies to take advantage. Even in Serbia.

Hotels near Eastern Serbia’s Mt. Rtanj are booked for the main (non) event next Friday, thanks to the mountain’s supposed mystical powers. British sci-fi author Arthur Clark declared the mountain to be “the navel of the world.” Sounds kind of gross to me, but it’s not gross to the hundreds of people who are trying to reserve rooms in nearby B&Bs. Until they try to use a pit toilet.

Some believe Mt. Rtanj contains a pyramid inside that will somehow save people nearby. If the pyramid-in-a-mountain sounds familiar, it might remind you of the story of the Visok, Bosnia pyramids I wrote about last year. I’m sure Visok is enjoying a brisk tourism trade as well. (Tip: Visok pizza isn’t bad!)

But the Balkans aren’t the only destination for apocalypse tourism. Pic de Bugarach in the French Pyrenees is also enjoying popularity from people who believe that aliens will rescue anyone there on the 21st. The Bugaraches (I’m sure they’re called that) have been fleecing these tourists for all they’re worth. It’s reported that one local is charging $1,870 a night for a four bedroom house. Don’t worry, you can also rent a camping site for $400 Euros. December camping in the Pyrenees IS the end of the world, as far as I’m concerned.

I hope these people negotiated refundable deposits, because the French authorities have announced the mountain will be shut down on the 21st.

Personally, I’d avoid the cold spots and book a room in Chichen Itza, Mexico. Not only is it warm, but the pyramid’s front and center rather than hiding in a mountain. Nearby hotels are already used to celebrations around the end of the Mayan calendar, and have planned fireworks and concerts at archeological pyramids. No word on whether REM will perform “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” there.

Finally, I’m fortunate to recommend Tical, Guatemala based on personal experience. Muz and I first heard of the end of the Mayan calendar on a visit there in 2007. It’s an awe-inspiring site. On December 21st, it’s also reported to be the site of the “New Dawn for Humanity” world summit, featuring Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Placido Domingo, Elton John, U2 and the Jackson brothers. And, based on memory, delicious bananas!

However, we aren’t traveling on December 21st. Instead, Muz and I have planned to go dancing. Like there’s no tomorrow.


Tuesday’s travel chuckit list: the Narcisse Snake Pit

 I’m adding to my “travel chuck-it” list once more with Narcisse, Manitoba, Canada

What’s wrong with Manitoba, you ask? Why, it’s home to the northern lights! And…the Manitoba Museum…and, um…the Narcisse snake dens.

The Narcisse snake dens are the home of the world’s largest concentration of red-sided garter snakes. Tens of thousands of  these snakes spend their winter in underground caverns through the area. In the spring, they emerge for weeks-long mating rituals and to eat the toes of unsuspecting tourists.

Okay, I made up that last part. Garter snakes aren’t dangerous. But tens of thousands of garter snakes are just…icky.  After mating, the snakes spend the summer in nearby marshes. And if there’s nothing more special than snake filled caves, it’s snake filled marshes, amirite? Here’s a video shot in case the stills aren’t creeping you out enough. Check out the sound of thousands of snakes writing against each other:

Technically the snake den is just outside of Manitoba, but it’s still pretty close. So I’ll watch the northern lights from one of these places instead, and leave the snake dens to the herpetologists and heebie-jeebie loving tourists.

One more for the travel chuck-it list: The Shrine of Karni Mata

I wrote about my travel chuck-it list a while ago, and when I saw this destination to awfulness I decided to add…

Deshnoke, Rajasthan, India

Specifically, the shrine of Karni Mata.

Perhaps you’re thinking, But RHOB, it’s a temple! You wrote about places of worship every Sunday for a year! 

Yes, yes I did. But you know what was never in those churches, temples and mosques?

Thousands of rats.

The Secret of Nimh is…yogurt drinks. Who knew?

Karni Mata was a Hindu mystic born in the 1300s or 1400s, depending on the source. National Geographic notes that at one point, a child of her clan died. Karni Mata tried to bring the child back to life, but was told by the god of death that the child had already been reincarnated as the Hindu faith prescribes. It’s not clear whether the child was reincarnated as a rat, but it was decided that the rest of Karni Mata’s clan would be reincarnated as rats until they could be reborn as humans. (Why no one chose a less…infectious in-between state is beyond me.)

The rats are referred to as children, and given food and drink. National Geographic claims that “eating food or drinking water that previously has been sampled by a rat is considered to be a supreme blessing.” With respect to Karni Mata followers, you know what a blessing is? Winning the lottery. Not eating rat-masticated grain.

Despite the rat’s reputation for spreading disease, there have been no reported cases of plague or other rat-linked sicknesses around the temple. Then again, if these rats are eating gourmet meals, I guess there’s not a big incentive to take a bite of worshipper.

There are at least 20,000 rats in the temple. And that, readers, is 20,000 reasons why it’s on my travel chuck-it list. Going to India? Yes, please. Going to Karni Mata’s temple? Nooooo thanks.

The Amazing Race

 I can’t believe no one told me about this last summer: The Ajvar 5k just outside of Washington, DC!

Good news (for me): I am not the only person around here obsessed with ajvar. There is an entire race devoted to the ruby goodness. Okay, so it’s actually a fundraiser for needy children in Macedonia, but runners get a jar of ajvar at the finish. Helping kids, getting a little exercise AND receiving fine European foods?  DONE.

Next year’s race is scheduled for September 8th. You can bet I’ll be there–unless I’m lucky enough to be in Macedonia running around Lake Ochrid instead.

Not a runner? You can still help sponsor the event. A donation as little as $5 will get you an honorable mention as a “Friend of Ajvar.” Though really, who ISN’T a friend of ajvar?

For more information, click on the race Facebook page HERE.


Top 5 Places on my Travel “Chuck-it” List

Muz and I are feeling the itch to travel, so we began discussing our travel bucket list. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a list of places (or things) you want to see before you “kick the bucket,” or die. Kind of morbid, I know, but you ARE reading the blog of someone who visits crypts for fun, so…

Anyway, our bucket list is a mile long. We’d need two lifetimes to see it all. Instead, I thought I’d make a “chuck-it” list: a list of places that I never want to see. If you gave me a free ticket to go to these places, I would chuck that ticket in the trash–and choose to have dental surgery instead.

RHOB’s Top 5 Travel Chuck-it List:

5. The Pacific Trash Vortex

Click to link to image source

Something with names like “Pacific” and “Vortex” seem appealing, until you realize it’s a vortex of garbage. About 15 years ago, researchers discovered a mass of plastic and garbage floating in the Pacific. The mass is larger than some countries–roughly twice the size of Texas. Currents carry plastics and other forms of man-made garbage to this area between San Francisco and Hawaii, where they float just beneath the surface. Clean up is difficult and expensive because the garbage has broken down into tiny particles that can’t be caught with a simple net. Birds and fish eat the garbage and often perish as a result. Basically, what would begin as a gorgeous sailing trip in the Pacific would become a voyage to see one of humankind’s worst havoc on nature. No thanks.

4. The Arctic Tundra, Alaska

I know, it looks great. Look at those open skies and verdant fields. Stunning! But I’m only going to see it through photos, and it’s not just because I hate cold weather. See the pretty birds in this photo?

They’re not birds. They’re mosquitos.

The Arctic tundra has the highest density of mosquitos in the world. And if there’s something I hate more than cold, it’s mosquitos. Seriously. Did you know there is, scientifically, no reason for them to exist? And yet they live here in vast numbers. It’s recommended that visitors cover every inch of skin to protect themselves from these useless insects. And even then, it doesn’t seem to keep them at bay. Check out this guy:

Would you visit him? I didn’t think so.

3. Pripyat, Ukraine (Chernobyl)

Click to link to image

I gotta admit, I struggled with this one. I mean, it’s a post-nuclear ghost town! Some people still live there, amidst the rusting rubble of a once-vibrant(ish) city. You can take tours of nuclear facilities and examine buildings where all activity stopped after April, 1986. Still, the constant assurances of “minimal” radiation exposure are a little nerve-wracking, as are warnings I’ve read about eating produce and fowl from the area. Plus, there was that gross horror movie about Pripyat. I’m sure it’s just a story, but I’ll stick to sightseeing in Kiev.

2. Verkhoyansk, Siberia

Remember reading that I hate being cold? This is the coldest (inhabited) town on earth. It can reach -60 degrees F. People eat frozen pony liver as a treat. However, you’ll see stunning landscapes if your glasses haven’t frosted over. This amazing article says everything I want to say, but better, since the person actually braved the elements to go there and I will not. Tip of the hat to you, good sir. Besides, I’ve just managed to teach people that I lived in SERBIA, not Siberia, and I really don’t want to have to explain the difference all over again. (Hint: they’re totally different!) PASS.

1. Christmas Island, Australia

My, doesn’t that sound lovely! Christmas Island! Well, ho ho ho, because the joke’s on you. This is Christmas Island:

Taken from the blog of a serious crab lover. Click image to link.

Every year, the island experiences a mass migration of its–wait for it–43 million red land crabs. These crabs don’t exactly respect boundaries–you can easily find videos of people sweeping them out of their homes. Oh, and by-the-by: there are 13 OTHER species of crabs on the island, including the largest crab in the world, the coconut crab:

Click to link to image

It’s a good thing this crab likes coconuts, and not cash. Because I would throw my wallet at that thing and run away like the wind. Seriously, I’m going to have a nightmare about this crab.

As if it couldn’t get better, Christmas Island is also known for its guano (bird, seal and bat feces) mining. Amazing! But no thanks on that invitation to Christmas Island. I have, um, a very important thing to do instead. That doesn’t involve giant crabs and poop.

No, it’s cool. You go ahead.

Ah, who am I kidding? I’ll go anywhere with a free ticket. As long as I can properly defend myself from cold/crabs/mosquitos and dieting travelers. Readers, what’s your chuck-it travel list?

Pet Peve Petak: when wi-fi is sky high

This place has free wireless…

We encountered free wireless in every single “budget” place we stayed: B&Bs, pensions, room-over-a-garage, whatever. For a dedicated blogger, (remember those days?) free wireless was my main concern.

“Is this place clean?” Maybe.  “Does it have wireless?” Yes. “Let’s book it. We’ll ignore that it’s on top of the train station.”

Then I joined Muz on business trips, and the hotels improved considerably. We stayed in places with brand names (!) with things like working elevators and lobbies. It was amazing—until I tried to get online and was informed that I needed to pay $15-$25 a day to connect.

The more you pay for a room, the more you pay for wireless. WHY!?!? Let’s examine excuses I found online:

1.      Wireless charges replace the lost revenue from long-distance phone calls and pay-per-view movies.

RHOB Reaction: Resignation. It’s not fair, but I believe this one, a little. However…when was the last time hotels made a profit on long distance phone calls? 1999? Cell phones have made this all but obsolete, even abroad. Especially abroad.

This place charges for wireless.

2.      Business travelers/companies are willing to pay anything for internet.
RHOB Reaction: Resentment. Sigh. I think this is probably correct. However, what if you’re NOT a business traveler? Surely hotels can look out for the self-employed, the tourists, and the plain old cheap. And $25 A DAY? That’s more of a rip-off than a stale bagel “continental breakfast buffet.”

Some nicer hotels offer free wireless to people who have hotel status points (usually through business travel). So, in exchange for weeks and thousands of dollars spent at your “luxury” hotel, paying for internet, you finally get something that’s free at Starbucks. Okayyyy. It’s this kind of accounting that got American bonds downgraded. Just sayin’.

3.      It’s only fair to charge for internet, because not all guests use it.

RHOB reaction: Rage. This is just…insulting. Most travelers use the internet, whether it’s to check email, make travel plans, or download better movies than the hotel offers on pay-per-view. And there are lots of things that I don’t use in a hotel. Coffee makers.  Shoe horns. Shower caps. Those felt things that supposedly polish shoes. No one’s knocking money off my hotel bill for leaving these items alone.

If I can get free wireless at a gas station, why can’t I get it at an upscale hotel? Of course, I’m digging my own grave with this one. Muz told me that there’s a way to avoid this problem—by only staying at the cheapest places. Double sigh…

The best one-stop shop in Puerto Rico

While in Puerto Rico I stumbled upon this public laundry/art gallery/coffee shop. If they had sold pastelillos (meat pies) and piña coladas I wouldn’t have bothered going anywhere else.